Temple One shot from Temple 2 at Tikal Mayan Ruins in Guatemala.

520315966

Temple One shot from Temple 2 at Tikal Mayan Ruins in Guatemala.

Photo by: Michael Robinson

Michael Robinson

A Canadian Teen Once Discovered an Ancient Temple – Using Google Maps

By: Lucy Sherriff

Most teenagers while away hours playing video games, scrolling TikTok, or texting friends. Not William Gadoury, a 14-year-old from Saint-Jean-de-Matha, Quebec. Back in 2016, Gadoury was holed up in his bedroom, plotting ancient Mayan constellations against modern satellite images and coordinates.

October 05, 2022

William Gadoury been fascinated by the Mayans for most of his childhood, ever since his grandparents bought him books from Mexico about the civilization, and he learned about the Mayan calendar that predicted an apocalypse in 2012. What started as a hobby at age 12 snowballed into serious research, and he theorized that the locations of Mayan cities might correspond to stars in Mayan constellations.

Close view of the ancient Aztec calendar

545593812

A woman using the application Google Maps on an iPhone.

Photo by: luisrsphoto

luisrsphoto

Using ancient books, known as the Madrid Codex, Gadoury analyzed 22 Mayan constellation maps and overlaid the positions onto Google Earth images of the Yucatan Peninsula, which to this day is home to large indigenous populations and some of the best-preserved architecture from Mayan culture. He would trace the constellations from Google Earth using transparent sheets, overlaying them onto the position of Maya cities on a paper map. The teen was able to show that 117 Mayan cities matched up with the position of the stars, with the brightest stars representing bigger cities, such as Chichen Itza and Uxmal.

The historic Maya manuscript 'Codex Dresdensis' is displayed under glass at the museum attached to Saxony's federal library (Saechischen Landesbibliothek) on February 22, 2012 in Dresden, eastern Germany. The 13th century piece is considered one of the world's oldest books. The manuscript was purchased for the museum in Vienna in 1739 as a 'Mexican Book'. It was identified as a Maya manuscript only in 1853. The book is composed of 39 bast fibre pages, which are double-sidedly inscribed and adds up to an overall length of 3.56 metres. The Codex comprises hieroglyphics, numbers and pictures and holds calendars, accounts on stellar constellation, lunar and solar eclipses as well as weather forecasts. Only few of the 750 signs include have been identified so far. The special exhibition "The end of the world in 2012?, The Dresden Maya Code and its deciphering" takes place from 24th of February until 12th of May 2012. AFP PHOTO / ROBERT MICHAEL (Photo credit should read ROBERT MICHAEL/AFP via Getty Images)

139575312

The historic Maya manuscript 'Codex Dresdensis' is displayed under glass at the museum attached to Saxony's federal library (Saechischen Landesbibliothek) on February 22, 2012 in Dresden, eastern Germany. The 13th century piece is considered one of the world's oldest books. The manuscript was purchased for the museum in Vienna in 1739 as a 'Mexican Book'. It was identified as a Maya manuscript only in 1853. The book is composed of 39 bast fibre pages, which are double-sidedly inscribed and adds up to an overall length of 3.56 metres. The Codex comprises hieroglyphics, numbers and pictures and holds calendars, accounts on stellar constellation, lunar and solar eclipses as well as weather forecasts. Only few of the 750 signs include have been identified so far. The special exhibition "The end of the world in 2012?, The Dresden Maya Code and its deciphering" takes place from 24th of February until 12th of May 2012. AFP PHOTO / ROBERT MICHAEL (Photo credit should read ROBERT MICHAEL/AFP via Getty Images)

Photo by: ROBERT MICHAEL

ROBERT MICHAEL

But when Gadoury was working on the 23rd Mayan constellation, he found a discrepancy: three stars, but only two ancient cities on Google Earth. The third star pointed to a location that was on the Mexico-Belize border. However, the area was covered with thick jungle, leaving William stumped.

Luckily, the teen had won a science competition the previous year with the Canadian Space Agency, and he was able to ask the agency for images from their RADARSAT-2 satellite. Lo and behold, there was a square, man-made-looking structure in the dense vegetation. Gadoury then searched the internet for any satellite images from 2005, when a fire had raged across the region, thinning out the vegetation. He found images from NASA, and JAXA (Japan’s Space Agency), and eventually deduced that there was indeed a city there.

Gadoury's findings eventually took him into the jungle in 2022 to search on foot, along with archeologist Francisco Estrada-Bell. The team discovered a farming hamlet deep in the Mexican jungle, which Professor of Archaeology Kathryn Reese-Taylor said hinted at the “backbone” of the Maya’s long-term success, which was down to their ability to cultivate the land and feed large cities. Recent surveys have estimated that the Maya population numbered in the millions, rather than the previously thought thousands.

"What I admired most about William was his curiosity," Reese-Taylor told CBC. "I think that he showed a lot of curiosity as well as imagination. And I think imagination is really important in science, because if you can't imagine it — if you can't think of it — you can't look for it."

As for Gadoury, who’s now 21, he’s already spent half his life studying Mayan constellations and potential coordinates of hidden cities, and he’s only just getting started.

Next Up

What's Inside the Secret Chambers in the Pyramids of Giza

A powerful new cosmic ray scan of the Great Pyramid of Giza could finally reveal what’s inside two voids in the structure that have baffled scientists for years.

A Majestic City Carved into Rock, Thousands of Years Ago

Carved into soft stone cliffs, the ancient sandstone city of Petra was built in the 3rd century BC by the Nabataeans. These people were a nomadic Arab tribe–Bedouins–who roamed the Arabian Desert in search of pasture and water for their herds.

New Seven Wonders of the World

The following list of the New Seven Wonders is presented without ranking, and aims to represent global heritage.

Mountains, Monasteries, and Yaks: Trekking the Majestic Kingdom of Bhutan

The Kingdom of Bhutan is notoriously difficult to get to. But the country’s isolation means its culture has not been diluted over time, and it provides a fascinating step back into a stunning landscape.

Dinosaur Footprints from 200 Million Years Ago Discovered in Wales

Members of the public found the former dinosaur “trampling grounds” while at the beach in South Wales.

7 Places for the World's Best Stargazing

For those of you who have already got your telescopes packed, here are some of the world’s best destinations to make you feel truly humbled.

The Romantic, Heartbreaking Love Story Behind the Taj Mahal

Ivory white columns rise from the earth, framing the central masterpiece: an intricately carved marble domed structure stood on a square plinth, resplendent with arched doorways, and topped by a bronze moon that reaches for the sky.

We Just Found One of the Earliest Fragments of the Merlin Legend, with a New Take

In a library in the UK, research librarians stumbled upon one of the oldest known manuscripts detailing the legend of Merlin. Translated from Old French, the accidentally discovered text offers a slightly augmented take on a typically risqué Arthurian legend.

Giant’s Causeway: The Fascinating Legend Behind Ireland’s Most Famous Landmark

The Giant’s Causeway is known around the world for its beautiful interlocking basalt columns – over 40,000 of them in fact – which look out towards the stormy, gray North Channel.

Explore These Majestic Sand Dunes... In Colorado

Colorado; a place we usually associate with snow-capped mountains and green grassy meadows, winter skiing, and kayaking in its clear, mirror-like lakes. But did you know the state is also home to a 30-square-mile sand dune field?